Over the last few years, there’s been a special couple of Greek films to make it to the states that have this absurdist bent with black-hole levels of humor. Most famously, we have the films of Yorgos Lanthimos like The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer. Pity, co-written and directed by Babis Makridis, is certainly part of this Greek new wave – the fact his co-writer Efthymis Filippou also co-wrote The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer is not a coincidence. Pity is hilarious at its heights, it had the audience at my screening howling with laughter at certain points, but by the end much of that laughter had subsided as the effectiveness of the film waned. Pity is definitely in the vein of some great Greek films, but is sadly not one of them.
Pity follows a man who is heartbroken over the fact that his wife is in a coma, but strangely finds happiness in his unhappiness as he becomes addicted to the pity that people show him. What happens when you take his drug of choice away from him by giving his wife back to him?
When Pity’s warped sense of humor is clicking, it’s really clicking. Makridis films his unnamed protagonist’s odyssey of human interaction in long, still takes to let the stilted nature of how his actors perform dialogue and their expert timing sink in. I could count on one hand the amount of times the camera moved in a shot, and the effect is for the most part winning as it wrings out some truly uncomfortable comedy. Yannis Drakopoulos milks the lack of emotion for all the hilarity he can as our lead, he’s hilarious by just being there. He performs lines like he’s reading from a pamphlet on how human interaction is supposed to be, and you can sense his jealousy of other people’s suffering in the simplest blank expression. This film would have failed miserably without him.
You spend most of the film waiting for it to do something dramatic – you know it has another level in it – but when it finally does, it’s hastily executed and overdone. We wanted it to go far, but it didn’t need to go that far in order to save itself. Pity comes so close to being a gem of dark comedy, but ultimately falls short. It’s just a pity.